Free Trade, Education and Support for US Policy
As we continue to speculate about trade liberalization in Education really amounting to the Americanization of Education, yesterday's U.S.-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (FTA), the first ever between the U.S. and an Asian nation, provides more grist for the mill.
On the face of it, the FTA has little to do with education, focusing instead on financial services, pharmaceuticals and textiles. However, beyond the specific service sectors the agreement contains a strong emphasis on anti-circumvention provisions, which read like the DMCA. One complete chapter in the agreement itself is devoted entirely to Intellectual Property (IP) and states the unequivocal commitment of both nations to halt the use of anti-copy protection technologies through legal measures.
This joint stand obviously has tremendous implications for the use of digital resources in education. In particular, digital rights management schemes and the associated anti-circumvention laws threaten the principle of Fair Use, as well as the mere ability to make back-up copies of legally purchased digital material.
Asia has a well-earned reputation as the digital piracy continent, but the total lack of concern for education's special status with regard to the use of copyrighted material is ominous. Individuals who sell illegal copies of Hollywood movies should be thought of differently than educators attempting to support student learning on a non-existent budget. In the recent U.S.-Singapore FTA, there is no indication that they will be.
While I was writing this post, I came across another perspective on the FTA from Lawrence Lessig, although I found it at Copyfight, not at Lessig's own blog. He points out the DCMA dimension in the agreement and sees it as a means of defending the DCMA from attack at home, since retreating from its tough provisions would now violate international agreements.
Furthermore, the timing of the agreement has caused some observers to claim that trade liberalization with the U.S. may be a function of support for its policies. As several sources, including The Washington Post, have pointed out -- Singapore supported the Bush administration on Iraq. Chile, which began FTA negotiations at the same time as Singapore and completed theirs sooner, did not. Singapore's FTA is now signed and whisked on to Congress. Chile's is not.
Will this be the pattern when countries make agreements under GATS about access to national "education markets?" Will developing nations find that loyalty is their best negotiating tool?